FB failed to flag off harmful content in India due to lack of tools: Whistleblower

Following a whistleblower’s serious accusations in the US against its “toxic” and “divisive” algorithms, the social-networking platform Facebook, allegedly failed to take action on fear-mongering and hate speech related to India because of “the lack of Hindi and Bengali classifiers”.

According to the Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s complaint filed with the US Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), “RSS Users, Groups, and Pages promote fear-mongering, anti-Muslim narratives targeted pro-Hindu populations with V&I (violence and inciting) intent”.

An “Adversarial Harmful Networks – India Case Study”, cited in one of the documents, quoted the author of the report as saying, “…and we have yet to put forth a nomination for designation of this group given political sensitivities”.

The complaint by Haugen alleged that Facebook’s internal records show there was a problem of “lack of Hindi and Bengali classifiers” to flag off such harmful content. Classifiers are automated systems and algorithms that are designed to detect hate speech in content on the social media platform.

“There were a number of dehumanising posts (on) Muslims. Our lack of Hindu and Bengali classifiers means much of this content is never flagged or actioned, and we have yet to put forth a nomination for designation of this group (RSS) given political sensitivities,” the complaint read.

After throwing the kitchen sink at her former employer, Haugen has laid out an inside-out view on the simple “frictions” that would cool off Facebook’s “toxic” and “divisive” algorithms that are driving teens and vulnerable populations off the cliff on the world’s largest social networking platform.

India is one of the biggest markets for the social network, with a user base of over 400 million for Facebook and WhatsApp each, according to third-party data. Both the BJP and the RSS were yet to comment on the complaint.

In the past, Facebook has faced several allegations of inaction against hate content in India.

In January this year, a Parliament Standing Committee on Information Technology (I&T) had issued summons to officials of Facebook and Twitter to question them over misuse of the social media or online news platforms. The committee has also questioned Facebook’s India head Ajit Mohan over the issue of political bias on the social media platform.

The allegations of a Facebook bias towards the BJP were reported in The Wall Street Journal in August 2020 and had claimed that Ankhi Das, the platform’s then India Policy Head had opposed the idea of removing hate posts by BJP leaders, warning that this could hamper their “commercial interests”. Das later quit Facebook.

Meanwhile, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has posted a staunch defense of his company in a note to employees, saying that recent claims by an ex-employee about the social network’s negative effects on society “don’t make any sense”.